Friday, March 15, 2013

Like a spirited dog

In this week’s selection from the Philokalia, St Hesychios warns against indulging in the misapplication of that God-given power that enables us to resist evil and pursue the good. This power is misused when it is turned toward other people in anger as opposed to turning in toward our own sinfulness and those powers that tempt us:

The incensive power by nature is prone to be destructive. If it is turned against demonic thoughts it destroys them; but if it is roused against people it then destroys the good thoughts that are in us. In other words, the incensive power, although God-given as a weapon, or a bow against evil thoughts, can be turned the other way and used to destroy good thoughts as well, for it destroys whatever it is directed against. I have seen a spirited dog destroying equally both wolves and sheep.
On Watchfulness and Holiness

A little later he suggests, as other early Church fathers did that anger toward other is an unnatural passion:

The incensive power roused in an unnatural fashion against men, sorrow that does not accord with God's will and listlessness are all equally destructive of holy thoughts and spiritual knowledge. If we confess these things the Lord will rid us of them and fill us with joy.
On Watchfulness and Holiness
Incensive power is a technical term used by the early Church fathers:

The incensive aspect or power (to thymikon) which often manifests itself as wrath or anger, but which can be more generally defined as the force provoking vehement feelings. [This] aspect or power can be used positively to repel demonic attacks . . . but it can also, when not controlled, lead to self-indulgent, disruptive thought and action.
The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1); Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Markarios of Corinth, p. 358

St. Hesychios and other Church fathers did not make this up. They got it from Jesus who warned that anger is a species of murder (cf. Matthew 5:21-22). One gets the impression that for Jesus and the early Church, anger is like nitroglycerine – it can be used to break down barriers between people, but is more often used to blow up bridges between people or to fuel our own ego and self-righteousness. As such, it should be left to the truly spiritually mature who can discern the difference. The rest of us are just children playing with dynamite. Or spirited dogs that cannot distinguish wolves from sheep.

For more from the Philokalia click here.

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